the future of rock and roll

was revealed to those of us fortunate enough to be at dan may’s gig this past friday, held in the basement of a unitarian church in harrisburg, PA.  our intrepid guitarist, dennis rambo, shot this footage from an undisclosed location known to those with the necessary security clearance as “the clara barton fooseball room”:

so brave, so daring, so completely and abashedly unconventional.  i mean, he laid it bare right there on the stage, and when he left, there was nothing we could do but hang our heads in shame and struggle mightily to somehow try not to embarrass ourselves with our obvious mundane sameness when we went on shortly after him.

i feel humiliated for having to sully the stage after he’d christened it with the blood of a true rock and roll innovator, and yet simultaneously fortunate to have been there for that moment, and to have seen the essence of the future of rock and roll.

monsters of harp, bitches!   Whoooooo-HOO!

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SomerFEST, Somerset PA – Dan May

we’ve got a bit of a rotating drummer thing going on in dan’s band right now…sharing the talents of mike beeson, tommy geddes, and abe spellar at any given time.  i don’t think we’ve used any one of them for two gigs in a row in recent memory.  the silver lining is that all three of them are phenomenal drummers, and they all bring something very cool to the table.

beeson was on this date, and was in rare form as well.  we all met up at a rest stop on the turnpike just outside greensburg to exchange parking passes and such, and mikey wanted to know how i’d made such good time on foot when i walked over to the van to grab my paperwork. 🙂

the weather was beautiful the whole way out the turnpike…until about twenty miles out of town.  then the clouds rolled in and the wind picked up and the droplets started forming on the windshield.  (murphy, you bastard…)

we waited until we got a break in the rain to hustle our stuff underneath the tent, where a period-attire german polka band was playing, complete with a clarinetist who could have been danny thomas’ own personal Mini-Me (complete with matching stature).

we were without heather, and in my less-than-optimal respiratory state, we knew that vocals were going to be dicey, at best, but in retrospect it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.  dennis was hedging on parts here and there, but kurman really shone.   he and i found ourselves in deja vu mode a couple of times, flashing back to our brief time together in the barley boys when we used to step on each others’ parts because we hadn’t found our way around where we were supposed to fall just yet.

it was also my first dan gig with the new vibrolux, which probably would have sounded better had i been more thorough and gotten a better check, as opposed to a “yep, it’s definitely on” kinda soundcheck.  as it stood, it was a little harsh on the steel, and by the time i came to that conclusion, it was really too late to do much about it.  it certainly could have been much worse, though.   note to self:  dan may is a deluxe reverb kinda gig.  no vibrolux necessary.

on the way home, before even getting out of somerset, i got a call from kurm, letting me know that the turnpike was closed and that we were being detoured onto highway 31 east.  i was initially bummed, because i figured that’d push me into a 1-2 AM e.t.a. at home, but not long into the trek i was somewhat thankful for the detour…and even more thankful that my camera was elsewhere, as i would’ve likely crashed on the way home taking pictures out the window.

the hour or so that we were off the turnpike and on 31 was at the perfect time of day, as the sun was setting, and cut through a beautiful part of the state.  rolling hills, farmland, cattle, green-ness everywhere.  add to that the warm hue of orange that hung over the countryside that was equal parts post-thunderstorm and sunset, and it just became one of those moments…when the windows are down, the wind is blowing through your hair, and everything – for the time being – is gonna be alright.

sellersville theatre, with craig bickhardt

this particular evening, tommy geddes and i found ourselves in the familiar role of supporting our good friend craig bickhardt at sellersville, opening for beth neilsen chapman (pictured, right, with her equal number of sidemen).

for some reason, i’ve been operating a little off kilter for the past couple of days. my throat is very sore, my neck is very tender, and my whole body hurts. i haven’t slept well the past couple of nights, and congestion has arrived late to the party, too. so i can’t say i was feeling my best for the show.

but, aside from the opportunity to play with my friend, my boys charlie degenhart and his perpetual sidekick diamond dave minnich had comp tickets at the box office, and i wasn’t about to miss a chance to hang with my extended family for the night. so i threw some axes and a change of clothes in my ride and off i went.

we discussed early on that it’d be best for everyone concerned if i didn’t sing, and happily, i didn’t have to. craig also introduced a couple of new songs into the rotation – a new song, “disinformation”, and one of my favorites, “where in the world”. the former is a romp, a natural lap steel song, and the latter is a beautiful ballad that gets only minimal mandolin arpeggios in the choruses – because that’s all it needs.

i feel like it’s taking me longer than it should to fit into craigs’ songs in a way that i’m comfortable with. part of that is the newness of it all – discounting the rehearsed idlewheel gigs, we’ve only done this a handful of times. i did tell craig last night after the show that i felt like i wanted to sit down at some point and work out some actual melodic hooks for some of the songs at some point in the not too distant future, but he seems happy with what i’ve been doing – which means, of course, that the answer lies somewhere in between our points of view.

charlie and diamond dave showed up, with dave in his tom hampton T-shirt (which prompted my buddy danny faga, the technical director at the venue, to lobby me for one of his own…it’ll be in my bag next show, buddy!) danny got us a great sound check in, and the show went as well as it could’ve from inside the bubble that was my head on this particular night. but craig said – and i can’t argue with him – that the dynamic between us all gets tighter with every show. larry ahearn seconded the motion, and larry wouldn’t bullshit either of us.

after the show, we all walked down the wet sidewalks to the washington house and had dinner. it was craig, tommy and i, along with larry ahearn and his wife, and charlie and diamond dave. i’m always torn about the whole dinner thing. it usually means missing a significant part of the headliners’ show, and i usually end up regretting that on some level. but the food is great, and this night, the company was better than the food. it was great getting to listen to the interaction between charlie and craig – new nashville resident and expatriate – comparing notes about their experiences, likes and dislikes.

and of course, a few pictures from the night are in order:

john eddie’s birthday bash – havana, new hope, pa


some days are a real test of your will. a bit of backstory, perhaps.

i was called to do a session for john’s upcoming record some time back, and i dutifully packed up my miscellaneous instruments and the like and headed off to hoboken, nj, to the pigeon club, where john is working on the record with producer t-bone wolk. john expressed an interest in possibly working together in a live capacity, so i started rehearsing with the band roughly a month ago…and this show on sunday was to be my live audience trial by fire. BUT – the thing is, i didn’t know until saturday that i was playing the show at all, and didn’t know when i had to be there until early sunday morning, when john called to tell me that load in was at noon.

well, the problem with that was that i had to be in hatfield to pick up my newly modded out fender vibrolux reissue around that time…and i didn’t really have another amp that would do the job in my possession at the time. so i jumped out of bed after i got the call, into the shower and then into some clothing, and went flying out the door in the direction of my amp techs’ house to retrieve it for the gig and get to havana in new hope as soon as i could for load-in.

i got to tim warneck’s house and put the amp through its paces – tim wasn’t happy with the sag that the tremolo was causing in the circuit, and we agreed that i’d bring it back to have the transformer replaced when he finished working on the princeton reverb that i dropped off as i was picking up the vibrolux…but i digress.

we rolled the vibrolux out the door and into the car and i took off for new hope to get my gear loaded in as soon as i could…i made good time, and got there just as geno was roping off the back parking lot. turns out, they’d only just gotten there a short while before me and they were busy setting up the PA. “just put your stuff over there, and we’ll give you a shout when we’re ready for you,” he says.

so i dutifully head back out to start bringing my gear in, and i pull the flight case outta the trunk, unload the guitars, and start looking for my large black laptop bag that holds my cables, pedals, capo, slides…all the miscellaneous stuff that you just can’t do a gig without.

no bag.

seriously. no bag.

then i remember – i had taken the bag out of the car the night before when i brought in my lap steel and mandolin to restring them, and i left the house in such a rush that i left it sitting next to the sofa.

now, i need to point out at this point that this is one of the most rookie, amateur, dick moves that a musician can make…leaving their gear at home. also, i need to point out that i absolutely hate being the “i need” guy. i’ve spent enough time around “i need” guys in my time, and it brings my blood to a boil.

“dude, do you have a 9 volt battery?”

“hey, man, you wouldn’t happen to have a spare E string, would you?”

“yo, tom – can i steal your capo, dude?”

but – what do i hate more than that guy? being that guy.

so once my stuff was inside, geno told me that they had some setting up to do and that they wouldn’t be ready for me for a while. so we slipped away into the back and i whipped out my iPhone and found that there was a dave phillips music in flemington, NJ about half an hour away that was open on sunday. so i told geno that i was going for a ride to run an errand, and that i’d be back in roughly an hour. i picked up a tuner, a capo, and a cord for a total cost of $106.80 and turned around and hightailed it back to havana.

it should be noted that i’m now solidly in the red for the gig, thanks to my own ignorance.

so…i’m plugging directly into the amp, with nothing between my guitar and the amp but a cable. no stompboxes, no volume pedal, none of the usual buffers that exist between the guitar and the amp.

i put on a brave face, didn’t say anything to anyone about what i’d done (because that’s exactly the wrong kind of impression to make on a first gig – “…uh-oh. this is one of THOSE guys…”

and – thanks be to the gods, dave phillips music, and tim warneck, it went off without a hitch.

the amp sounded phenomenal…when i got it, it had been retrofitted with weber replacement speakers by the previous owner, but apparently the job was a little sloppy and one of the wires that ran from the cone to the terminal block was shorted and the amp was running on one speaker. plus, after tim evaluated the amp, it was painfully obvious that it had been dropped in shipping, as there were some loose components in the chassis. this all goes a long way towards explaining the crappy performance i was getting from it when i first tried to put it through its paces.

no more, though. it was clean and warm all the way up to 7 or 8 on sunday, and it breaks up just enough at 8 to sound like it’s supposed to at that volume. tim did the vibroverb mod on the amp, adding the negative feedback that’s missing from the original design of the amp, and it’s a huge, huge improvement.

john and the band did four songs and then called me up after they’d gotten things started, and i never sat down again. i had thought that we’d do the material from who the hell is john eddie that he’d had me learn, plus some of the cover stuff he’d sent me, but he ended up plowing through two full sets of stuff, and he never dismissed me…so i kept playing. i kept one eye on kenny aaronson’s left hand for the whole show, and aside from one regrettable clam in “skynyrd”, it went pretty well – lots of complements from folks at the gig, and from the crew as well.

the pic was taken by my new myspace friend, sunny, who was at the gig and took an assload of pics of the band that you can see at her page.

happy birthday, john!